Author: Dr Tracy Blake (@TracyABlake)
This blog mirrors Dr Blake’s accepted Editorial that will appear in BJSM shortly (anticipated online first: between July 17 and 24).
Updated August 3rd, 2020: Editorial published July 30th, 2020 (FREE)
Cite this article as: Blake T. In the fight for racial justice, the sidelines are no longer an option
The British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) has worked diligently to position itself as “a multi-media platform that provides original research, reviews and debate relating to clinically-relevant aspects of sport and exercise medicine, including physiotherapy, physical therapy, and rehabilitation”1. Its global community and partnership network includes over 10,000 sport and exercise medicine (SEM) physicians and sport physiotherapists—each with an ethical obligation to athlete health, safety, and well-being embedded in their duty. When the BJSM chooses to amplify an issue, the sport and exercise medicine community listens. When the BJSM chooses to remain silent, as it has on the impact of racism, colonialism, and white supremacy on athlete health, safety, and well-being and well-being, that silence speaks volumes.
Racism is a human rights issue and a public health issue. The murder of George Floyd has become the catalyst for reflection, reckoning, and reform the world over. The BJSM is not exempt. Much like the Translating Research into Injury Prevention Practice (TRIPP) model2 would suggest, the BJSM must better understand the presentation and burden of racism, colonialism and white supremacy, and identify factors that reinforce their presence and impact, be it implicitly, covertly, or overtly.
Research and academic publishing have an inequity issue. The pervasive and persistent dominance of older, white, cisgender male voices has received much attention in recent years, including at the BJSM. The BJSM has both led and amplified actionable changes that have focused on disrupting and dismantling the bias towards the older, cisgender maleness of those dominating these spaces. Yet, the BJSM has not engaged in any actions to disrupt and dismantle the bias towards the whiteness of those dominating these spaces.
The quality of research is not reflected in its neutrality nor in its objectivity; it is reflected in its transparency. Concepts such as the biopsychosocial model, complex systems approach, and the importance of sport in the context of public health are amplified across the BJSM platform. Yet there is rarely a mention of any social determinants of health, even descriptively. The impact of oppression in any iteration (e.g., racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, classism, religious bigotry, etc.) on any component of the research process is never discussed.
The BJSM requires its authors to report their ethics approval, informed consent, and completing interests. But no such standard has been implemented around the use (or lack thereof) of culturally competent research practices. Methods sections address how study participants are recruited, assessed, observed, evaluated, and treated. But discussion regarding how the disparity between the racial demographics of a study population and the population of interest could impact a study’s generalizability, for example, has been entirely absent.
The BJSM platform extends beyond peer-reviewed research articles to include blogs, podcasts, educational modules, conference accreditations, and social media. That platform has been used to amplify issues and disseminate timely information for the sport and exercise medicine community. Thirty-two offerings, for example, were disseminated to help clinicians navigate the COVID-19 pandemic between March 18-June 12, 2020. Yet, until now, none of these resources have been utilized to engage with the sport and exercise medicine community about how racism and other systems of oppression can be identified and dismantled within the one trillion-dollar sport industrial complex. The apathetic response from the BJSM to the laundry list of examples of institutionalized and interpersonal racism experienced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) within sport around the globe, has not gone unnoticed.
These examples of omissions and oversights do not “just happen”. They are predisposed to occur when there is a pattern of bias towards whiteness as the default. This is the foundational tenet of white supremacy. Acknowledging this is hard. Accepting it, even harder. But until we do, we cannot move towards accountability and actionable progress towards racial justice.
Racism is not extraneous to the sport and exercise medicine community. Its impact on athlete health, safety, and well-being cannot be denied. Racism will not fade into obscurity and irrelevance simply by people not being racist; it must be addressed through intentionally antiracist actions.3 Indigenous Australian elder, artist, educator, and activist Lilla Watson belonged to a collective from which the following quote arose: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”4 Racial justice is more than just a pipe dream. Reform is possible. The time to act is now. The BJSM is not exempt.
This article was written in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Huron-Wendat peoples. This work would not be what it is without Jennifer Ogilvie and Winta Desta, whose justice-driven vision, critical consideration, reflective insight, and emotional support were always right on point and right on time. I am so grateful for you both.
Dr Tracy Blake is a member of the British Journal of Sports Medicine editorial board.
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: Aims and Scope. Wesbite: https://bjsm.bmj.com/pages/about/ (retrieved June 10, 2020).
- Finch C. A New Framework for Research Leading to Sports Injury Prevention. J Sci Med Sport 2006;9(1-2):3-9.
- Kendi, IX. How to be an antiracist. New York: One World, 2019.
- Aboriginal Activist Group, Queensland, 1970. Blog: http://northlandposter.com/blog/2006/12/18/lila-watson-if-you-have-come-to-help-me-you-are-wasting-your-time-but-if-you-have-come-because-your-liberation-is-bound-up-with-mine-then-let-us-work-together/. (retrieved June 13, 2020).